A Pastor Is Not A Bully And A Bully Is Not A Pastor

To the surprise of many, effective leadership goes hand in hand with loving gentleness.

This isn’t a popular trait in our world today. You’ll find plenty of books in the self-help section on how to be more bold, assertive, or proactive. But you’ll struggle to find any designed to teach you to be gentle.

No companies looking for a new CEO have gentleness as their top trait. And if a church advertises that they’ve hired a new senior pastor who’s gentle, people aren’t likely to flock to hear him.

Paul believed gentleness matters very much. No doubt part of the reason for this qualification is that this trait marked the Great Shepherd, Jesus himself. Jesus described himself as “gentle and lowly” and declared, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29–30). This image stands in contrast to the bad leaders of Israel who placed a “heavy yoke” on the people (1 Kings 12:4). Jesus isn’t harsh and abusive but patient and kind. He isn’t pugnacious and demanding but long-suffering and humble.

To say Jesus is gentle is to say he’s “not harsh, reactionary, or easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe.” He doesn’t put burdensome prerequisites or demands on people—heavy yokes. Or, to put it in gospel language, Jesus is full of grace (John 1:14). As for the word “lowly,” it’s essentially the equivalent of humble (cf. James 4:6). Despite Jesus’s glory and grandeur, he doesn’t separate himself from sinners with an air of haughtiness and pride. He doesn’t have bodyguards and private cars but is accessible and relatable. Nothing demonstrates this humbleness better than when he literally dressed as a servant and washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:4–11).

Because of this, we’d be hard-pressed to come up with two words more opposed to the characteristics of a bully pastor, which is precisely why such pastors should be disqualified from ministry. Bully pastors lack gentleness, compassion, and understanding. They put enormous burdens on the backs of people, are hypercritical, and are hardly ever pleased.

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Michael Kruger | “A Christlike Pastor Isn’t A Bully” | May 7th, 2023


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4 comments

  1. Hmmmm…good stuff here, with plenty of servant leadership direction, and strong biblical support for the arguments. Much appreciated!

    Building on this: the final thought or summary statement could perhaps better be phrased towards “[…] needs to recognize the error of their ways, repent, and strive to be a more Christ-like shepherd”. Or perhaps specify that a shepherd “who refuses to repent and change” should not be a pastor.

    This may seem like a minor quibble or an obvious point. But it’s quite important, perhaps the rest of story, as Paul Harvey would have said….

    1. We need all the ‘good’ shepherds we can get, and personal accountability, mentorship and training is what usually turns most ‘average’ (or even ‘bad’) leaders into good ones. Diamonds in the rough are quite dull and ugly – it is the act of cutting and polishing a diamond in the rough that brings light and even brilliancy to the stone. These personalities are often sadly not very self-aware – how does a shepherd come to the realization that they need some painful cutting and polishing in this area?

    2. A bullying and arrogant pastor that demissions, instead of learning humility as he grows in Christ and becomes more perfectly sanctified by the Spirit, is not only a loss to the flock but simply becomes a bullying and arrogant Christian and congregant – a double whammy which doesn’t help anyone, including the pastor. Submission to other godly elders would be the first step; and then after, where does a shepherd go to study better leadership skills and techniques?

    3. Shepherds often carry heavy burdens, and need great strength to carry them. For sure – the false strength that is pride and arrogance can be the means and manner that some men use (and wrongly so) to carry that weight without failing under it. But a God-given strength of character and drive is sometimes hidden behind the false front of bullying and arrogance. It could be argued that the Apostle P himself was bullying and arrogant before he was driven to his knees on that Roman road – and what an amazing wonder and blessing to us all is that strength of purpose re-focused in a Christlike manner! Would that the Body had more Pauls that were once Sauls, standing firmly in defense of the doctrine of God, rather than the false humility and cringing weakness of the Uriah Heep “Be ‘umble’ and compromise, Mother!” models that we too often see selling our common birthright for pottage!

    All this is suggested with the understanding that some men will not change for any variety of reasons, and must leave leadership before they cause more harm than good. But without flattery – it’s a well-written piece and it wouldn’t be the worse off for additional encouragement and guidance/direction to the guy who needs to learn humility and a better management style while maintaining and even increasing the requisite balance of the forceful strength of character that Christ so perfectly modeled for us.

    All good stuff here – thanks Pastor Clark- keep it coming!

    • David,

      1. If you haven’t done so, you might follow the “read more” link to the rest of the article. This is just a portion.

      2. We should value Paul’s qualifications for pastors and elders. An abusive person has disqualified himself. Obviously, one who is guilty of abuse ought to repent and if he does, that’s a good thing but were I to catch a shepherd abusing my sheep, I would not put him back over the sheep. They would not trust him again (why should they). I might help a repentant abuser to find another job but I wouldn’t put him back over the sheep.

      3. Paul was an abuser—but he not as a Christian and not as Christian minister.

      4. I’ve been carrying the burden of pastoral ministry since 1987. I wouldn’t hesitate to remove an abuser from office. It’s because I’ve been a shepherd/pastor for so long that I am so strict about removing abusers from office.

  2. The problem is that I would imagine that it’s hard to identify these negative traits in seminary to the extent that somebody would be removed for being temperamentally unfit for ministry. Once this type of person is actually in ministry, he usually works as quickly as he can to consolidate his power by grooming and surrounding himself with ruling elders who are “yes men” whose primary purpose is to protect the pastor and offer no resistance to him. Once he has accomplished this it is very difficult to remove such a pastor unless his conduct is beyond the pale.

    • Bob,

      I’m a seminary prof. We can’t always see abusive traits but we do see them and when we do, we address them. WE cannot do the work of the church. That would be improper but we do speak to potential candidates for ministry to advise them whether we think that they are gifted for ministry. Again, it is the job of the classis/presbytery to make that decision and sometimes those bodies make different decisions than I would.

      I do wish that classis/presbytery candidacy committees would speak to us about candidates. This sometimes happens but not as often as it should.

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